The Resurrection of Jesus, Part 1

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Why Should I Care?

Why should you care whether or not some random Jewish man came back to life 2000 years ago in an average city in a backwater Roman province? Fair question — lets consider some answers.

But it’s inspiring, so who cares if its true?

Florida State University Philosopher of Science Michael Ruse recently declared that it is “totally unimportant” that the resurrection of Jesus is a fact or not. “I think that what is important is that those disciples on the third day, who were downcast, and had seen this man put to death in the most horrible way, suddenly said ‘our creator lives!’”[1]

For Ruse, the resurrection of Jesus was at first only a feeling of inspiration, or closure, or something or other, that inspired Jesus’ closest followers to keep on going after a horrific setback. It is the religious inspiration or encouragement that matters in religious stories, not whether such stories are true.

Because it matters whether or not the gun is loaded

But surely Ruse’s brush-off is foolish. Consider C.S. Lewis’ parody of this sort of objection. In The Great Divorce, a rather intellectual occupant of Hell (an Anglican Bishop, it is suggested) is pressed on his beliefs about God in an effort to persuade him to choose heaven over his unbelief and rebellion:

“Do you not even believe that He exists?”

“Exists? What does Existence mean? You will keep on implying some sort of static, ready made reality which is, so to speak, “there”, and to which our minds have simply to conform. These great mysteries cannot be approached in that way. If there were such a thing…quite frankly, I should not be interested in it. It would be of no religious significance…”[2]

Well, that is ridiculous, of course. If the God described in the Bible exists, then that is the most fundamental and important fact of all existence. Thinking otherwise is like playing Russian Roulette and believing the whether or not the gun is loaded is of no significance. Now, such a fact may be existentially insignificant, but only if we cannot know whether the gun is loaded or not. But what if we can know? That knowledge would make all the difference in how we approach the game. The same with such all-important claims as the existence of God and the Resurrection of Jesus.

Because it validates Jesus’ claims about Himself and us

The claims of Jesus of Nazareth were much closer to today’s claims of moral responsibility of certain groups of people than mere historical or scientific facts. In other words, I can go about my life and not care whether dark matter is a thing, or whether Brutus stabbed Julius Caesar; those are indeed mere facts. I am so far removed from them (even if they ultimately influence me via physical forces or historical developments) that their truth or falsehood makes almost no difference to my daily life.

However, when someone makes a moral claim on me — say, when they insist that because I am of the same race and gender which has oppressed other races and genders in the past therefore I am morally obligated to fundamentally alter my life around acts of reparation— well, now I must stop and consider whether such claims are valid. I don’t want to be on the wrong side of such a moral obligation.

Jesus made some very significant moral claims that he evidently believed apply to all people at all times, particularly regarding how we are to think of him. If he rose from the dead in real life, then those claims are vindicated and therefore apply to you and me.

The Resurrection fundamentally affects every area of human existence

Lots of facts are either scientific, (i.e., about nature), historical, or moral. There aren’t many claims, however, which if true profoundly affect our understanding of all of nature (the nature of nature?), of history, and of morality. The claim that Jesus of Nazareth walked out of his grave a couple thousand years ago is one of those claims — perhaps the most important one:

1. Nature:

Here is where many scientifically minded agnostic folks might be tempted to shout me down; “what has this religious claim to do with science?” Simple: if Jesus of Nazareth came back to life after being a corpse for a couple days, then that fact has fundamental implications for the nature of the universe vis a vis the existence of God, especially the God talked about in Christian religious teachings. And thus…

2. History:

If the Resurrection really happened explains the rise of the most influential moral and ethical framework in the history of humankind, and validates its central claims about the nature of God and the nature, purpose, an destiny of man.

3. Morality:

If Jesus really was raised from the dead around 33 AD, then his specific claims to have ultimate moral authority over every human life have been vindicated, and we should take with deadly seriousness the claims in the Bible about the state of our lives before a morally perfect, all-powerful God. Also, we can rejoice that He has both solved the problems of evil, pain, suffering and death and invites you and I into that absolutely effective solution— into a life of existential abundance, joy, and purpose, which will last forever.

So, the Resurrection matters, and you need to know if its true

So, far from being just a fact of history, or science, or religion — or some fluffy inspirational ’spiritual’ story — the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is arguably the most significant fact in all of history, nature, and human existence. It does matter to you and I, immeasurably.

So how do we determine whether or not we should believe that Jesus was Raised from the dead? We examine the evidence. In the next post we examine the conversion of James, Jesus’ brother.


1. PremierUnbelievable, “Michael Ruse vs John Lennox • Science, Faith, and the Evidence for God,” YouTube, September 07, 2018, , accessed October 12, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yrnXdzQRISM&t=2232s.

2. C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, A Dream (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001), 42. Emphasis mine.

The Resurrection of Jesus, Part 3: The Conversion of Saul of Tarsus

One of the movement’s most bitter enemies became it’s most prolific evangelist

The apostle Paul, known as “Saul” before his conversion to Christianity[1] around 35 AD, has perhaps the most dramatic conversion story of all of the early Jewish believers in Jesus. It is considered almost historically certain that Saul oppressed and hounded early believers in Jesus, having many of the arrested and imprisoned. He also was a formal witness at the execution by stoning of the Christians’ first martyr, Stephen:

Acts Chapter 8

They continued to stone Stephen while he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” 60 Then he fell to his knees and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” When he had said this, he died. 8 And Saul agreed completely with killing him.

Now on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were forced to scatter throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. 2 Some devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him. 3 But Saul was trying to destroy the church; entering one house after another, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.

Gary Habermas (perhaps the leading expert on the state of scholarly opinion on Jesus’ resurrection) writes, “Without question, the most critically-respected witness for Jesus’ resurrection is the apostle Paul.”[2] This is because we have multiple letters which are known to have been written by Paul himself, in which he describes his oppression of the early Christians before becoming a believer. These passages describe events that would have been within living memory of many in the churches to which he was writing, so its very unlikely he was making up such embarrassing material.

Michael Licona sums up the case for Saul’s persecution of early Christians:

Paul’s notorious pre-Christian activities and conversion are multiply attested, first by Paul’s own testimony that he himself writes within roughly twenty to thirty years of the events; second, by Lukes record in Acts, written thirty to sixty years of the events; and third, by a story that was probably circulating among Christians in Judea and that most likely dates to within three to a little more than ten years of Paul’s conversion.[3]

The question arises, then, what could have caused this leader in the Jewish anti-Christian cabal to become, seemingly overnight, the new Jesus-is-the-Divine-Messiah movement’s greatest evangelist? Paul alludes to having “seen the Lord” as a he defends his credentials as an apostle to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 9:1). Paul also lists himself “last of all” among those leaders in the movement who had seen the risen Jesus:

I Corinthians, Chapter 15

7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as though to one born at the wrong time, he appeared to me also. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

(Notice that reference to his dastardly pre-conversion persecution activities in verse 9, by the way.)

There are two accounts of Paul’s encounter with Jesus recorded in the book of Acts: Acts 22: 6-16 and Acts 26:12-18. These accounts have some differences, which some have attributed to the different circumstances around their telling. Paul recounts the second story as part of testimony in a legal proceeding. The first one is the account by author of Acts (Luke), told in the flow of the narrative.

There can be little doubt that Paul had a profound, life-changing, and totally unexpected encounter with Jesus of Nazareth, five or so years after Jesus was executed and buried. Could this have been a ‘merely’ spiritual experience? Actually, Paul leaves no room for speculation that he took it as anything but an appearance of the physically resurrected Jesus, the Divine Messiah and Son of God. The evidence for this conclusion is extensive, and deserves its own blog post in its honor. Coming soon.


1. There really isn’t any religious reason why Paul is called “Saul” sometimes and “Paul” other times in the New Testament. “Paul” (eng. ‘little’) is his Roman familiar name which he probably was given at birth. “Saul” was his Jewish name. Both names were fairly common in their respective cultures. (Craig Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary, 2014, p.358).

2. Gary Habermas, “Resurrection Research From 1975 to the Present: What Are Critical Scholars Saying?” Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 3, no. 2 (2005): , accessed October 20, 2018, doi:10.1177/1476869005058192.

3. Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 374-375.

The Resurrection of Jesus, Part 2: The Evidence

When examined honestly, the evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth turns out to be very good, and much better than for any alternative explanations on offer. Of course, it is impossible to do this subject justice in a few blog posts, so I highly recommend digging deeper if interested.

The most comprehensive single work in the subject currently is Michael Licona’s The Resurrection of Jesus, A New Historiographical Approach, published in 2010. A much shorter work which is a good introduction to the evidence is William Lane Craig’s The Son Rises, The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus. These and other works are linked in the “Further Reading” section.

What is the evidence?

The evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is pretty straightforward. Since it is an event of ancient history, we have no video or photographs (which are themselves become less reliable of late). Instead we must look at the same evidence that historians consider for any other contested ancient event: circumstantial evidence (i.e., where does the evidence point when taken together), and  the relative plausibility of alternative explanations.[1]


The conversion of James

Jesus’ own brother came to believe Jesus was the Divine Messiah and became a top leader in the post-resurrection movement

The conversion of James the brother of Jesus requires just a little reflection to be hit by it’s strangeness. What would it take to convince any adult sibling that his older brother was, not crazy after all, but actually a Divine Messiah? Would the older brother appearing to him in physical form after being unmistakably executed do it?

James kept his distance before Jesus was executed

There are clear indications in the New Testament accounts that Jesus’ family became more and more concerned about the path Jesus was taking.

Mark Chapter 3

Now Jesus went home, and a crowd gathered so that they were not able to eat. 21 When his family heard this they went out to restrain him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’” … Then Jesus’ mother and his brothers came. Standing outside, they sent word to him, to summon him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him and they said to him, “Look, your mother and your brothers are outside looking for you.” 33 He answered them and said, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking at those who were sitting around him in a circle, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.

John Chapter 7

After this Jesus traveled throughout Galilee. He stayed out of Judea because the Jewish leaders wanted to kill him. 2 Now the Jewish Feast of Shelters was near. 3 So Jesus’ brothers advised him, “Leave here and go to Judea so your disciples may see your miracles that you are performing. 4 For no one who seeks to make a reputation for himself does anything in secret. If you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” 5 (For not even his own brothers believed in him.)

These passages shows the distance which had developed between Jesus and his family. In an honor-oriented culture like first-century Palestine, the eldest son going off the rails in a very public way was a shameful development, which is not likely to have been tolerated for long by the younger brothers. In the passage in John it seems like they are even suggesting Jesus put himself in danger at the hands of the religious leaders.

These passages and others in the gospel accounts show that, as Michael Licona puts it, “the brothers of Jesus were not counted among his followers throughout the time of Jesus’ execution. Ny all accounts, they appear to have maintained a distance from their brother’s ministry.”[2]

James became a highly dedicated follower of Jesus soon after Jesus’ death.

In Paul’s first letter to the believers in Corinth that Jesus appeared to James after His resurrection.

1 Corinthians 15

3 For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received – that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.

The change in James was so radical that that many scholars — even non-Christian scholars — today see it as positive evidence that James experienced what was (at least what he perceived to be) a no-kidding alive-from-the-dead interaction with Jesus.[3] Gary Habermas writes that many critical scholars see the evidence as very strong that something extreme happened to the James and the other disciples shortly after Jesus was executed.[4] They became passionate firebrands spreading the message that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah of God and was Himself due the same worship as God — And they were still monotheistic Jews till their deaths! They were all willing to be executed rather than recant this message, and the evidence is very good that some of them, including James, the half-brother of Jesus, actually were killed for this belief.[5]

 


1. Paul W. Barnett, Jesus and the Logic of History (Downers Grove (Ill.): InterVarsity Press, 2000), 128.

2. Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 455.

3. Licona, Resurrection, 460.

4. John Dominic. Crossan, N. T. Wright, and Robert B. Stewart, The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and N.T. Wright in Dialogue (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), 80.

5. Sean McDowell, The Fate of the Apostles: Examining the Martyrdom Accounts of the Closest Followers of Jesus (London: Routledge, 2018), 134.